This is a guest post by Tiki Horea.
When I first started mixing, I struggled to make my music sound balanced and professional.
The snare drum was always louder than the vocals. The bass was masking the guitars, and the pads overcrowded everything.
Naturally, I started searching the internet for a solution to my problem. I stumbled upon the words “pink noise mixing.” I watched a few videos on the technique and was curious — could this be the answer I was looking for?
In this article, you’ll learn how to mix your own music with pink noise.
We’ll compare this technique to using your ears to balance a mix. I mixed a song twice: first with pink noise, then using my ears. You’ll be able to hear clips from both mixes further down in this article. Finally, you’ll discover whether mixing with pink noise can actually improve your music.
What is the pink noise mixing method?
The most important thing you do as a mixer is balance the levels of the different tracks in your session. Everything else builds on top of that. If you don’t have the right balance, nothing else matters.
But getting the right balance can be hard, especially if you’re newer to mixing.
The pink noise mixing method can help by giving you a faster, easier way to set the levels for your tracks (without using your ears alone).
What is pink noise?
Pink noise is a type of noise that we perceive as being balanced throughout the frequency spectrum. This means that, to our ears, the low frequencies sound as loud as the high frequencies.
Take a look at the screenshots below. I routed pink noise through a spectrum analyzer, which is a special tool that helps us “see” the frequencies a sound is comprised of.
People have noticed that a well-mixed song has a similar shape to pink noise on a spectrum analyzer. I put a great mix through an analyzer to show you that. Check the screenshot below:
Do you see how similar the shape of pink noise and a well-mixed song are?
This is the reason why some people suggest we balance our tracks with pink noise. They say that aiming for the same shape on a spectrum analyzer makes for a great mix.
This makes sense, but does it actually deliver on its promise?
How to apply the pink noise mixing technique
1. Turn down the output of your audio interface so you don’t blow out your speakers, headphones or ears.
2. Add a tone/signal/noise generator plugin to a spare track in your DAW. In most DAWs, you’ll find this tool in your stock plugin library.
Note: If your DAW doesn’t have a noise generator plugin, download a pink noise file from here. You can find it under “Noises” on the left side of the page.
3. Set the plugin up to play pink noise at around -12dB.
4. Loop the section of your song where most of the tracks are playing (usually the chorus).
5. Solo the pink noise track. Keep it soloed throughout this process.
6. Solo the first track in your song.
7. Increase the fader level on this track until it can barely be heard over the pink noise.
8. Repeat steps 6 – 7 until all tracks have been leveled.
How to set up pink noise in Logic Pro X:
- Create an audio track.
- Click on “Audio FX” in the track inspector.
- Go to Utility>Test Oscillator.
- Click on Pink Noise.
- Make sure the level on the right side of the plugin is set to -12dB.
How to set up pink noise in REAPER:
- Create a track.
- Click on the FX button on the track you just created.
- Type “pink noise”.
- Double-click on “JS: Pink Noise Generator”
- Make sure the “Noise (dB)” slider is set to -12dB.
Does it work?
I wanted to figure out whether the pink noise mixing technique works, so I mixed Dylan Owen’s track “Everything Gets Old” twice. First, I mixed the song with pink noise, and then I balanced it using my ears alone. Take a listen:
Is pink noise mixing a good idea?
I listened to both samples a few days after I mixed them. The version mixed with pink noise sounds unbalanced to me. The vocals are buried behind the instrument tracks. The drums are too quiet and the bass synth is too loud.
In hip-hop, the vocals, kick and snare drums are the most important elements in the song. The pink noise method buried them all underneath the least important tracks — the pads.
I found that using pink noise to set the track levels took me longer than doing it by ear, even though I used some Reaper tricks to make things faster.
The overall process was much less pleasant than mixing using my ears; it felt more like a hearing exam and less like making art.
The results are clear to me: mixing by ear trumps the pink noise mixing method.
Even though pink noise might, in some edge cases, get your tracks balanced faster, it definitely does not help you become a better mixer.
(the one) Pro
- Some people argue that the pink noise mixing method helps them balance tracks when their ears are tired.
(the many) Cons
- This method can easily become a crutch that slows down the rate at which your listening skills develop.
- Pink noise mixing takes longer than balancing by ear, and it can get annoying if you’re not used to listening to pink/white/rainbow noise for extended periods of time.
- Important elements, such as the vocals, can easily get buried underneath tertiary tracks, such as pads.
- If you’re starting a mix with the client in the room, mixing with pink noise will most likely make them question their decision in hiring you.
Look, I feel ya. When you compare the mix you slaved over for a week with one mixed by a veteran… it can be soul-crushing. It can make you want to give up. I still get discouraged sometimes.
There are no shortcuts. Mixing with pink noise won’t help you make better-sounding music.